Lanka laments landslides loss

Thursday, 19 May 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Sri Lankan military personnel take part in relief and rescue efforts following a landslide in the village of Bulathkohupitiya on May 18, 2016. Rescue workers on 18 May recovered the bodies of 17 villagers buried in landslides in Sri Lanka after three days of torrential rain. The disaster hit two small villages in Kegalle, a mountainous area northeast of Colombo, and takes the overall death toll from flooding and landslides in recent days to 36. - AFP

  By Dharisha Bastians

Flood struck and reeling from devastating landslides, nearly 400,000 Sri Lankans were displaced from their homes after heavy rains Untitled-4over three days wreaked havoc across the island.

Fatalities from the flash floods and landslides climbed steadily throughout the day, ending at 37 dead and 362,000 affected by the inclement weather conditions caused by a low pressure area moving across the island.

Two big landslides in the Kegalle District was the major focus of rescue operations since Tuesday (17) night. The mountain slip in Aranayake practically buried three remote villages and displaced over a thousand people who took shelter in four displacement camps set up in schools and temples in the area.

Working overnight, a team of 300 army personnel including elite commando units, medics and sniffer dogs combed through the rubble and recovered 14 bodies, while officials warned of a further risk of earth slips. 

Commander, Western Province, Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe said his men had been engaged in rescue operations for over 20 hours, returning to the mountain rubble even as the area continued to experience mini-slips throughout the course of the day yesterday.

“The loss is devastating,” President Maithripala Sirisena tweeted from his official Twitter account after his visit to Aranayake last afternoon. President Sirisena, who visited survivors at the displacement camps in the area, said the Government’s main priorities were finding the missing and providing food and health services. “Later we will start thinking about compensation and building new homes,” he told reporters after his visit to the tragedy-struck region.

Major General Ranasinghe said the army was informed that more than 130 people had been documented as missing in the area, and were feared dead. Sri Lanka Red Cross officials said some of the missing may have heeded early warnings and left the area, adding that a search was on to determine the whereabouts of all the families based on Government population statistics.

In a separate landslide in Bulathkohupitiya, also in the Kegalle District, rescue workers recovered three bodies from the rubble, as continuing rains and the severe landslide risk hampered rescue operations.

12Spokesman for the Disaster Management Centre Pradeep Kodippilli said the Government could not yet confirm the numbers missing from the twin landslide disasters.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also toured the affected areas by helicopter yesterday and told Parliament that while the Government deeply regretted the loss of life, it was also necessary to determine the cause of major landslides and put policies in place to mitigate such disasters in the future.

Minister of Law and Order and Southern Development Sagala Ratnayaka and Minister of Disaster Management Anura Priyadarshana Yapa accompanied the Premier. 

Meanwhile, several parts of the Colombo District were submerged after the water levels in the Kelani River rose and spilled over to low lying areas. Residents in Kolonnawa, Wellampitiya, Sedawatta, Sinhapura, Kohilawatta, Orugodawatte and Kotikawatta had to flee their homes as the flood waters submerged their neighbourhoods. Throughout the day, residents and relief workers appealed for boats to rescue marooned residents. Emergency power cuts were imposed in the flood struck suburbs of Colombo to prevent accidents, LECO officials said. The power outages would remain in force until the water levels in the Kelani River stabilised, power supplier said.

The Disaster Management Center last evening warned residents in areas surrounding the Kelani River to evacuate to safer places as soon as possible, as the river waters continued to rise.

Air Force helicopters and Navy boats also engaged in rescue missions in the storm-struck Puttalam District, pulling people to safety as the flood waters rose.

Sri Lanka Red Cross said 19 out of 25 districts in Sri Lanka had been affected by the torrential rains that have beaten across the 10island since Sunday (15).

The Government has allocated Rs. 150 million in emergency relief funds to deal with the natural disaster, Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said. “The Cabinet has made the funds available to the social services department and decided that anyone who requires funds for rebuilding will be granted allocations,” Minister Yapa said.

Minister of Housing and Construction Sajith Premadasa addressing the Parliament pledged the new houses will be constructed in areas, which will have fewer possibilities to face floods and other natural disasters.

“The Government is looking with immediate effect to construct houses for the families who lost their homes in the aftermath the landslides and inclement weather that prevailed during the last few days. We have already instructed the National Building and Research Organisation to select suitable areas for to commence construction,” said Minister Premadasa who claimed to have found the financials to support the partially destroyed dwellings. “All new houses will follow the Udagama concept,” he added.

The Department of Meteorology said the low pressure area wreaking havoc across the island had now become a tropical depression located about 300 km off the coast of Jaffna and moving towards Eastern India. Met Department officials said rains would continue in the South Western regions of the country with strong winds likely in the northern parts of the island, but with less intensity than experienced earlier in the week.

In the face of the natural disaster, Facebook activated the Safety Check feature in Sri Lanka, to allow users to notify friends that they were safe and accounted for during the emergency. This is the first time the feature has been activated for an emergency in Sri Lanka.